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NPR: Energy Conservation the Key to Green Buildings of the Future

Part of the green-building push built into the economic stimulus is a plan to upgrade the nation’s aging and inefficient energy infrastructure. This is undoubtedly a necessary step.

And along the lines of the old adage “a penny saved is a penny earned,” energy savings may be even more important to the nation’s energy future. The less we rely on power plants, the smaller our contribution to climate change.

All Things Considered, May 1, 2009 · Power companies are planning to beef up the nation’s electricity transmission grid. At the same time, conservationists are trying to reduce the vast amount of power wasted in Americans’ homes and offices. That raises a question: If we simply used energy more efficiently, would we need to spend billions of dollars on a new grid?

To answer this question, we first need to know how much electricity buildings of the future could save. A good place to start is an office in downtown Washington, D.C. — the new home of the U.S. Green Building Council, which pushes for and certifies hyper-efficient construction.

Project architect Ken Wilson says the idea is to make the office a model of efficiency. It’s a glimpse of the future.

‘The Mother Of All Green Projects’

“What we’re doing in this project is dramatic,” he says. “The energy load for our lighting is being reduced in half. And we’ve loaded it up full of all kinds of energy-saving devices that are in some ways a paradigm shift.”

For example, there are no desktop computers in this office — only energy-efficient laptops. And even those won’t be humming away all the time. The new paradigm is that energy is only consumed when it’s actually needed.

A set of cubicles has something that looks like a smoke detector overhead. The gizmo actually senses human bodies and is wired into the work pod’s electrical outlets.

“The idea is that when someone leaves the pod, and the occupancy sensors will sense that they’re not there, then that outlet shuts off. And so if they’ve got a task light plugged into that or a laptop computer into that, it goes off,” Wilson explains.

The laptops revert to battery mode or save active work and shut down, saving energy that would otherwise be wasted. Air conditioners are also set up so that they don’t cool empty offices. Brendan Owens of the Green Building Council points out that instead of desks, there is a broad corridor of white carpet near the windows that reflects natural light deep into the work space.

“At the peak of the day, when we’re getting most of our light outside the space, we can turn off all our interior lights, and that shuts our demand way down,” Owens says.

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